While California hate-crimes laws are being used to target “pure speech,” a federal plan that would impose similar speech restrictions on Christians “is still lurking in the shadows” in the U.S. Senate, warns a team of civil rights advocates.
The warning comes from the Pacific Justice Institute, which is running an online petition campaign to alert people to the dangers the pending legislation poses.
As WND reported, the federal plan, H.R. 1592, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, but when it reached the U.S. Senate, instead of holding hearings and a vote, senators tried to attach it to another bill as an amendment. The maneuver would have prevented any public input on the plan.
That effort failed, but that doesn’t mean the American public is safe from the dangers the federal legislation poses, according to Matt McReynolds, a staff attorney for Pacific Justice.
The full title of the legislation is “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007,” and it provides federal help to local agencies dealing with “hate crimes.” It also separately creates new federal offenses for “hate crimes,” including the addition of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” for inclusion as protected characteristics.
“It hasn’t gone away, it’s still lurking in the shadows,” he told WND. “And not just that. The U.S. House version has passed, so they can slap it on as an amendment to something else.”
McReynolds said the dangers are real.
“When you start down the list of Western countries, Australia, Canada, Britain, France. Everywhere hate crimes plans have been adopted there are examples of problems. It’s gotten to the point even pure speech is being criminalized, with no actions or violence,” he said.
“That’s where hate crimes legislation inevitably has led in other Western societies,” McReynolds said. His organization has worked on a number of such cases already involving California’s own version of a “hate crimes” plan.
“The law of unintended consequences – or perhaps intended consequences cleverly disguised – is starkly illustrated by the ongoing federal case Harper v. Poway Unified School District,” he wrote in a summary of the problems. “In Harper, a student responded to the annual pro-homosexual ‘Day of Silence,’ which was being heavily promoted on his high school campus, by wearing a T-shirt which expressed his religious viewpoint that homosexuality was ‘shameful.’
“Instead of allowing a differing viewpoint, school officials pulled aside Harper, demanding that he change his expression or face suspension. An assistant principal even suggested to Harper that he needed to leave his faith in the car while at school, in order not to offend homosexual students,” according to McReynolds.
“Such a result clearly undermines basic Constitutional protections,” including free expression and religion, he noted.
“Incredibly, the federal courts in California upheld the school’s actions. In one of the most sweeping, speech-restricting opinions in recent memory, Judge Reinhard of the Ninth Circuit baldly asserted that Harper’s First Amendment rights – undeniably strong under Tinker and other Supreme Court precedents – were trumped by the need to protect homosexual students from an opposing viewpoint. …”
“Not surprisingly, Judge Reinhardt’s decision cited California’s ”hate violence’ educational statute, Cal. Educ. Code ?? 201, 220, et seq. as justification for stifling a politically incorrect viewpoint – even though there were no allegations of violence against Harper. In concurrence, Judge Gould followed the same line of reasoning in labeling religious opposition to homosexuality – even when expressed peacefully – as ‘hate speech’ which he equated with ‘a burning cross’ or ‘a call for genocide,’” McReynolds continued.
He said such cases illustrate that once enacted, “hate crimes” legislation inevitably ends up being used as a justification for restrictions on pure speech, particularly against people of faith who raise religious objections to behavior they consider immoral.
He said it’s fortunate that the Harper precedent was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, but he noted that the litigation of the core issues still continues, and other school districts in the state still are relying on the now-vacated decision as a basis for “stifling student speech.”
McReynolds said Pacific Justice also has worked on cases involving a handful of students in Sacramento schools who in previous years were suspended, and some of them were physically assaulted, cursed and intimidated, for wearing T-shirts that peacefully expressed their religious beliefs disagreeing with homosexual behavior.
“Months of negotiations with school officials in an attempt to ensure that students’ free speech rights would be respected had limited effects. As a result, the Day of Silence has proved to be even more of a flashpoint this year, with hundreds of suspensions doled out in Sacramento-area high schools for peaceful literature distribution and printed Bible verses on T-shirts. Tolerance, it seems, is becoming a one-way street,” he said.
Such intolerance, he said, “appears to flow from biased policy judgments, expressed through hate crimes laws such as H.R. 1592 and its predecessors already embedded in California law, that some minorities are better than other minority or majority groups. …”
He also warned “hate crimes” labeling is not limited to the issue of sexual orientation but poses significant dangers to the First Amendment.
He said Pacific Justice recently defended Pastor Audie Yancey, who had been ordered to appear before a local “Human Relations Task Force” to answer for some religious tracts he distributed.
They depicted the 9/11 terrorism, and said: “Remember 9/11: In the name of Allah, they brought destruction and death to thousands. In the name of Jesus Christ, you can have eternal life.”
While McReynolds said it’s hard to imagine a scenario more protected by the long list of leafleting precedents from the Supreme Court, Pastor Yancey still was accused of “hate speech.”
The pastor’s defense was successful, but “it is alarming to think that some officials believe that, under the pretext of preventing ‘hate speech,’ they can interrogate a clergyman concerning religious statements which could not possibly be considered threatening.”
He also noted recent attacks on Christians by the Hindu American Foundation. That organization, as WND reported, has blasted Christian organizations across the nation, including the Southern Baptists’ missions board, Gospel for Asia and the Minnesota-based Olive Tree Ministries, which teaches Christians about their beliefs, for having Internet “hate sites.”
“The proliferation of websites promoting religious hatred is an unfortunate consequence of the universality of access to the internet,” said Vinay Vallabh, the lead author of the report by the Hindu American Foundation. The organization called for Internet Service Providers to censor such postings of Christian beliefs.
“If anything … the concerns about H.R. 1592 are being understated. A decision by Congress to inject the federal government into the culture wars and fundamental theological disputes can only engender further divisiveness and limitations on free speech,” the Pacific Justice Institute said.
McReynolds also warned the pending federal plan has included a provision allowing evidence of “expression or associations of the defendant” allegedly related to the “hate crime.”
“In other words, a crime committed by a deranged person against someone who is gay or transgender could trigger investigations into churches the defendant attended, or conservative groups he may have been part of,” McReynolds said.
As WND also has reported, a New York judge has even concluded that evidence of “hatred” is unnecessary for a prosecutor to pursue a “hate crimes” case.
The judge said prosecutors can seek enhanced penalties for the case defendants, if convicted, under the state’s Hate Crimes Act of 2000, without any evidence of actual “hate.”
Pacific Justice noted that the California legislature recently approved a resolution urging Congress to adopt a “thought crimes” plan.
“We cannot afford to lose this fight,” said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice. “Recent history in California and around the globe demonstrates the disastrous consequences to people of faith when so-called ‘hate crimes’ bills are enacted. Now is the time to sign petitions, call lawmakers and let our voices be heard.”
He told WND especially dangerous is the tactic that seems to have been adopted to embed the new restrictions within another piece of legislation, such as a military funding bill.
“If the legislation is going to decide whether our men and women in Iraq are going to have the weapons they need to do their jobs, then we could very easily see this become law [even though President Bush does not support it],” Dacus told WND.
The organization’s website petition says: “As a concerned citizen wishing to protect religious freedom, free speech and equal protection for all Americans, I hereby voice my OPPOSITION to the ‘Hate Crimes Bill’ H.R. 1592 currently being considered by Congress.”
A wide range of leaders previously expressed concern over such “hate crimes” plans.
Former White House insider Chuck Colson, in his Breakpoint commentary, has labeled such a provision a “Thought Crimes” plan.
WND columnist Janet Folger wrote the idea of arresting people for stating their religious beliefs that homosexuality is wrong is no longer something that “may” happen in the future.
“Here’s the Cliff Notes of what so called ‘hate crime’ legislation has already done IN AMERICA,” she wrote. “This is no longer up for debate. Here are the facts.”
- Madison, Wis. David Ott, a former homosexual, was arrested for a “hate crime” for sharing his testimony with a homosexual at a gas station. He faced a $10,000 fine and one year behind bars. Seven thousand dollars in legal fees later, [he] was ordered to attend re-education classes at the University of Wisconsin conducted by a lesbian.
- St. Petersburg, Fla. Five Christians including two pastors were arrested at a homosexual rally for stepping onto the public sidewalk instead staying caged in their officially designated “free speech zone.”
- Elmira, N.Y. The Elmira police arrested seven Christians for praying in a public park where a homosexual festival was getting started.
- Crystal Lake, Ill. Two 16 year old girls are facing felony “hate crime” charges for the content of their flyers.
- Philadelphia, Pa. Arlene Elshinnawy, a 75-year-old grandmother of three, and Linda Beckman, a 70-year-old grandmother of 10 (along with nine others), were arrested for sharing their faith on the public sidewalk.
Folger said the testimony from the grandmothers can be seen and heard at the Stop Hate Crimes Now website.
“Just how many cases do we need to cite before America stands up and stops the bill that will criminalize Christianity?” she asked.
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